There are no moral victories in the Big Ten, especially when you have multiple chances to win a ball game, but Rutgers showed up on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor.
The Scarlet Knights controlled the best rushing attack in the nation but came up just short in a 20-13 loss to No. 19 Michigan.
It was a tale of two halves in the Big House. Michigan began the game with a 17-play drive for a touchdown where they were able to do whatever they wanted. From that moment on, Rutgers was able to control the two-headed monster in the backfield for the Wolverines. Michigan, led by Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, rushed for just 113 yards.
The Scarlet Knights made the necessary adjustments defensively and did so without Julius Turner — who was ejected in the second quarter after a bogus targeting call. Turner will be eligible to play the entire game next week against Ohio State because the foul occurred in the second quarter.
As good as the defense was, the offense took a bit of time to catch up. Trailing 17-3 near the end of the first half, Rutgers decided to go for it on fourth-and-10 from the Michigan 44-yard line. This was a poor decision as Michigan was able to get a quick strike to Mike Sainristil to get inside the red zone. The Scarlet Knights held up and forced the Wolverines to kick a field goal.
Michigan would be held scoreless in the second half and the comeback was on. Rutgers capped a 12-play, 91-yard drive on their second possession of the second half with a touchdown pass from Noah Vedral to Aaron Young.
Vedral was rock-solid again finishing 18-for-31 for 156 yards and a touchdown. He added 46 yards on the ground although he committed the first turnover of the season with fumble on the final drive of the game that ended the comeback.
Vedral and Isaih Pacheco, who totaled 107 rushing yards, got comfortable running the ball in the second half. Rutgers won the time of possession battle by nearly seven minutes.
After forcing Michigan to punt on each of its first three possessions of the second half, Rutgers had a chance to tie the game at 20 in the fourth quarter. The Scarlet Knights faced second-and-6 from the Michigan 7-yard line but a false start by Troy Rainey pushed them back five yards. This seemed to take the air out of the drive and it ended with a missed field goal by Valentino Ambrosio.
This would not be the final chance for Rutgers. It got the ball back with eight minutes left in the game and picked up just one first down. The Scarlet Knights faced third-and-1 from the Michigan 38-yard line but they turned it over on downs after some questionable play calling. This included a Johnny Langan run up the middle that was stuffed on fourth down.
Rutgers found success in the short-passing game used as an extension of the run game. The Scarlet Knights seemed to get away from this a bit and it proved costly.
Rutgers will be back in action next Saturday at 3:30 P.M. ET when it hosts No. 10 Ohio State.
The Scarlet Knights went toe-to-toe against the top rushing attack in the nation and had chances to win it at the end. This should give Rutgers confidence moving forward in Big Ten play. This was a measuring stick game for the Scarlet Knights and it is clear that they belong in the conference. Now, it is all about finding ways to come out on top in these close contests.